Rose Acre Farms was looking for an ideal location for a new complex that could fulfill a number of requirements, including access to grain and finding a locale in the Eastern U.S. with an animal agriculture friendly culture that needed jobs. It succeeded with its Hyde County complex in North Carolina.

Located just a few land miles from North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound, Rose Acre Farms’ Hyde County complex initially seems a rather unlikely home for around 3.5 million laying hens.

Decades of road improvements have made this part of the North Carolina coast more accessible, but it still remains quite a bit off the beaten path.

Before the Hyde County complex was built, Rose Acre was looking for a location that could fulfill a number of requirements, according to John Brinn, complex manager. North Carolina remains deficit for corn, but this part of the state has a lot of acreage that is great for growing corn. Farmers in this area have always been challenged to find customers for their grain close by, and Rose Acre saw locating the layer complex here as a win-win situation for the company and local farmers.

Hyde and neighboring Washington and Tyrell counties have a history of significant row crop production. Production of cotton has declined, but it has been replaced by corn. Since the complex was opened five years ago, all of the grain for hens has been sourced locally. Soybeans are processed into meal at nearby facilities as well.

In addition to access to grain, Brinn said that Rose Acre wanted a location in the Eastern U.S. with an animal agriculture friendly culture that needed jobs. Brinn, whose father once farmed land adjacent to the complex, said that unemployment is chronically high in the area and that the complex has been embraced by the local community.

Ethanol production has really changed the landscape for sourcing corn in the U.S. Brinn said that over a decade ago, when Rose Acre expanded in Iowa, it was done largely because of the state’s corn surplus and relatively low corn prices. Now, with the expansion of the ethanol industry in Iowa, it can be more economical to source corn in Hyde County, N.C., than it is in parts of Iowa.

100% composted

The Hyde County complex is permitted for up to 4 million hens. There are 12 identical high rise barns at the complex, which house 280,000 layers each. The complex’s solid waste permit requires that 100% of the manure generated at the complex be composted, and done so to specific standards for temperature and time.

All of the manure from the layers, pullets and the mortalities is composted on the layer farm in two large buildings. The manure is windrow composted and water is added during the process to get the moisture content high enough for composting. Around 30,000 tons of compost are produced annually; Brinn said it is all sold locally, mainly to row crop and vegetable farmers. Compost prices vary depending on commercial fertilizer prices, but it was selling for around $38 per ton in June.

The high rise houses allow for a year worth of manure storage in the barns, but Brinn said that the manure is removed from the houses several times during the course of the laying cycle. Removing manure more frequently helps to keep the composting operation busy year round, and it also helps with rodent control.

1,000 cases per hour

Six layer houses sit on either side of the egg packing plant. Eggs are conveyed from the houses to two packing lines in the plant. This is not a breaking facility, so emphasis is placed on maximizing pack out of shell eggs. Eggs with cracks are shipped to another Rose Acre facility for breaking, and broken eggs are separated from shells onsite and shipped for use in pet food.

The plant can clean, grade, pack and chill around 1,000 cases of shell eggs per hour. The complex’s output can be packed on one shift per day, seven days per week. Shell eggs are packed in a wide variety of cartons for a number of customers, primarily on the East Coast. Surplus shell eggs are packed for export in refrigerated containers, which are then trucked to Norfolk, Va., or Brunswick, Ga., for shipping. Brinn stated that the complex has shipped shell eggs to customers in the EU, Hong Kong and Dubai.

People make it happen

A total of 155 employees work at the complex, including employees who work in the pullet houses that are located around one quarter mile from the main farm. There are separate crews of employees who care for the birds, work in the packing plant, clean the packing plant, move birds and clean houses.

For biosecurity reasons, in-house crews move the birds from the pullet house to the layer houses and remove spent layers from cages for shipment to a processing facility. A second shift sanitation crew cleans the egg packing plant, and there are some personnel who monitor the houses and provide sight security during off hours, but the rest of the staff works on day shift. Employees work five days out of seven each week on a rotating schedule to give coverage 365 days per year; the hens don’t take holidays off.